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Animals used for scientific purposes

Commission Proposal

On 5 November 2008 the Commission adopted a proposal to revise Directive 86/609/EEC. Through the proposal the Commission aims to minimise the number of animals used in scientific procedures and significantly improve the treatment of the animals still needed for safety testing and biomedical research throughout the European Union. It should also enhance the quality of research conducted in the EU and ensure high standards of human and animal health and environmental protection. The proposal will be adopted through the co-decision procedure and now awaits transmission to the European Parliament and the Council for their official positions on the draft.

What's new in the proposal ?

The new proposal contains a number of measures designed to tighten up current EU legislation. It states that it will be compulsory to carry out an ethical evaluation, and authorise projects using animals at Member State level.

The proposal contains a ban on the use of great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans) in scientific procedures. However, research on great apes could still take place for the conservation of the species itself, and is allowed if necessary in the case of a serious pandemic affecting the human population in Europe.

The scope of the proposal has been widened to include specific invertebrate species, foetal forms from last 3rd of their development, and animals used in basic research, education and training.

Housing and care measures for experimental animals are set out for the first time. Based on Recommendation 2007/526/EC, minimum requirements for housing and care will be firmly laid down in the new Directive.

Second or higher generation non-human primates will be required, with appropriate transitional periods, in order to avoid taking animals from the wild, and exhausting the wild population.

Member States will have to ensure the improvement of breeding, accommodation and care, and of methods used in procedures, eliminating or reducing to the minimum any possible pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm to the animals. These measures are based on the three Rs principle of replacement, reduction and refinement of animal use. Replacement refers to replacing procedures which involve live animals with alternatives not using sentient animals. Reduction refers to reducing to a minimum the use of animals in procedures without compromising the quality of results. Refinement refers to using methods that avoid pain, suffering or distress or lasting harm to a bare minimum. This last 'R' also includes improving the care, treatment and living conditions of animals. Since upholding animal welfare is now integrated into the EU Treaties this must be taken into account in all policy areas.

The Commission's proposal will considerably improve the welfare of animals used in scientific procedures, reduce to the absolute minimum necessary the number of animals used in scientific procedures, ensure fair competition for industry and research, and should also boost the development and validation of alternative methods to replace, reduce and refine the use of experimental animals.